Konkan-Shakti-WB-2

Bombay to Goa 40


Bombay to Goa

I still remember those days when my father would take us every summer to Divar Island (Goa) from Wadala, Bombay – by steamer. Back In the sixties, seventies and till 1991, there was a pair of steamers which used to ply from Bombay to Goa, carrying loads of passengers on a charming journey along the Konkan coastline. One called the Konkan Sevak and the other called the Konkan Shakti. One left from Goa for Bombay and the other from Bombay for Goa at 10.00 in the morning.

Konkan Shakti - Bombay to Goa

Konkan Shakti – Bombay to Goa

What an exciting trip that used to be ! The passengers were a motley group of Goans, tourists, hippies, Konkan coast travellers, all in a festive, picnic-like mood. Out would come guitars and other instruments, along with packed food, and it would be one long party all the way as the ship would make various halts at Vengurla, Malvan, Ratnagiri and other place, to take on more passengers who would arrive in large hand-rowed canoes, which would then take the disembarking passengers.  Most old timers who have experienced these journeys feel very nostalgic. The entire experience was a trill to the boot something todays journeys to Goa by plane, train or bus don’t give you. And all that for not so big a price.

Konkan Shakti Bombay Goa ferry 1970

Konkan Shakti Bombay Goa ferry 1970

Down memory lane – Pics of Bombay of old

They were a few cabins for those who wanted privacy and were willing to pay a high price. Then there was an upper deck for those who could afford. And a lower deck for everybody else. You bought your ticket at ferry wharf (Dockyard Road – Mazagoan) and stood in a long line waiting for the gates to the gangplank to open.  Once they did you ran, with a clutch of bedsheets. And you tried to spread them out on the life rafts that were spread out on the deck. This staked your claim. The ship would sound its foghorn and the great voyage would commence. You would settle in and eye your neighbours. A half hour ago you would have run them off the gangplank drawn and quarrelled if they stood in your way.

Konkan Shakti - Bombay to Goa

Konkan Shakti – Bombay to Goa

Now you open your alcohol bottles and lunch packs and invite them to share. The Goan spirit would slowly begin to show.  You could see guys strumming guitars and some young Goan boys even getting friendly with Goan girls. Singing in some corners with spirits getting a bit high by midday.

Here are 10 Beaches in Goa you have never visited, probably.

You would definitely see a lot of “hippies” on these journeys, travelling to Goa. Haversack, guitars et all. Typical sight during those days.

Hippies on Bombay-to-Goa Steamer service 1970s

Hippies on Bombay-to-Goa Steamer service 1970s

The bucket man comes around. A bucket piled high with Limcas and Thums Up. And in his many pockets he has quarts of Feni. These Feni bottles he would sell at Goa prices, even though you can still see the Gateway in the distance.  The bell is sounded for lunch in the canteen. For lunch you get fish curry rice. With fish that tasted so fresh, they’ve probably jumped straight out of the Arabian Sea into the kitchen.
The passengers took turns to eat in the canteen. You bought your coupon for a lunch service. And carried your Feni to the table with you. The ship would meander along the Konkan coast all this while. Occasionally, one would spot dolphins along the route.

Reminiscing the Caminhão transport of a Goan era gone by

A man would come around announcing Housie. And everyone who was tired of looking at pristine beaches, at swaying coconut trees, at the rise and swell of the sea would head for the mess. Now cleared of fish curry and rice. Tickets would be sold. The electrical engineer would be deputed to call out the numbers. A few Feni glasses would make their appearance. The tables  had raised borders to keep the glasses from getting to know the floor. The housie would get under way with Jaldi fives and lines and full houses helping to defray the cost of your ticket.

Back onto the deck to watch the sunset. While this little world unto itself chugged on towards Goa, the bucket man had run out of Limca so now you were drinking feni with limbu pani. And after the third peg of Feni the talk turned to God and love and who made the best Goa sausages. Goan spirit at its best, again!

Along the Konkan coast, towards the late night, as the ship reached its port of call it would pull a little closer the coast. Little canoes would come out from the harbours of Vijaydurg, Sindhusurgh, Jaigadh and Ratnagiri to ferry the passengers to these port.  They passengers would get down on a rope ladder up the side of the ship. The ladies making sure their saree didn’t snag in the rungs.  The passengers having disembarked on their port of destination, the ship would sail again along the coast line towards Panaji, Goa.

Here are some pictures of a popular festival in Goa, on the Island of Divar.

Dinner was announced in the now familiar, as your own house, dining hall cum housie room. Back to the deck post dinner. Where the rosary would commence. All five decades. The whole litany. Petitions at the end for everyone and everything. Including Fluffy, whom the neighbours were looking after, because they didn’t allow dogs on the ship.
The life rafts that had doubled up as card tables, bar counters and nappy changing tables, were now converted into beds. And you lay your weary head to rest.
Somewhere in the night we’d pass the sister ship, a toot from one Captain to the other to let him know all was well with the world.

Top 10 Places (NOT Beaches) to Visit in Goa

Sunrise would wake you up. Smiles to everyone around you. Now you can see the silhouette of our beloved Goan coast line. Sand strewn beaches in the distance, lined with palm trees. What sight it was in the fresh morning air ! Some of us will never forget these scenes! Engraved in our heads forever.  What followed was breakfast coupons and hot tea.
Between 8.30 am and 9.00 am you were sailing past Chapora fort. Then Anjuna.  Followed by Baga hills in the distance, with the Jesuit retreat house at its peak. Onwards to Calangute then Candolim. Then around the Fort Aguada. Finally, a grand entry, up the Mandovi River, past the barges loaded with iron ore. A beautiful experience, etched forever in our memories!
Time to disembark. Pack your stuff and exchange telephone numbers and addresses with the friends you just made since last morning. And offcourse, promises to stay in touch. Best wishes exchanged for the holidays and pending land disputes.
Then there was another sight to watch. Relatives waiting at the Panjim dock to receive visiting families, nephews, cousins, uncles and what have you. And as we step onto the jetty at Panjim, a sign of the cross and a mumbled prayer in thanks for a safe and happy journey.

Konkan Shakti

Konkan Shakti

The  two steamers — Konkan Shakti and Konkan Sevak, were co-opted for the Sri Lanka War in the late 1980s, and the grand Goan party was over. One of them is now somewhere in the Andaman Islands. Although, Damania Shipping started a hovercraft service on the same route in 1994. But, it was never really the same thing in every aspect and the thrill you got in the old sea transport.  Damania used a beautiful Scandinavian-built vessel, with aeroplane-style reclining seats. The trip from Mumbai used to take seven hours to reach Panaji. The catamaran too, travelled around 40 km offshore, giving travellers a glimpse of the palm-fringed Konkan coast.

After the service’s last voyage in 1991, Konkan Shakti and Konkan Sevak, the two vessels operated on the route, were sent to ferry the armed forces to Sri Lanka at the behest of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Here are more videos and pictures of  Divar Island in Goa.

Today you will be lucky to find one Goan or a Goan family traveling with you in the same train, bus or flight. What surely makes the the difference is the cultural aspect of us Goans.





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40 thoughts on “Bombay to Goa

  • bernie

    wow It brought a tear to my eye reading such an apt description of those long forgotten days … i also remember eating Kheem-pao , as dinner, and to think I also once used this steamer to run away from Home , at the tender age of 9 ..!!

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Those were the days Bernie !
      All of us have tears in our eyes when we remember them.
      Today you will be lucky to find one Goan or a Goan family traveling with you in the same train, bus or flight. What surely makes the the difference is the cultural aspect of us Goans. I know I am getting a bit of a racist and bigoted by saying this. But what the heck ! It’s a fact !

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Appreciate the comment Keith !

      Memories is all that is left now. Bits and pieces of time we have spent travelling with our loved ones.
      No matter how long back that ‘time’ was, it never seem enough, rummaging through it again and again.

  • John Agnelo Dsouza

    Oh I really enjoyed on those ships.
    It bought tears to my eyes to read it all over again those old memories

    Great God bless

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Glad I warmed the cockles of your heart, John.
      It’s a joy to re-ignite happy memories from days of old.

      Thank you !

  • Laraine

    Very very nostalgic. Well written brought back so many memories. I remember the Upper Deck and lower Deck and hated when the ship would dock at Ratnagiri. I don’t recall any ship mishaps. I would compose poems and wis I still had those poems to recall further memories. Loved the full moon and the reflection on the waves of the sea! How fast time has flown.

  • Keith deSa

    Brings back wonderful memories!! Being from Divar myself we would sometimes catch the launch from Panjim to Divar.
    Great article!!

  • JUDE DESOUZA

    Even before these two dedicated ships were the SABARMATI and SARASWATI ? .
    Same enjoyable spirit, same fun.
    Memories never fade. They remain etched in our minds.
    I met a Chief engineer in Australia who was heartbroken when I related the change and development in Goa.
    To him the place was still mud roads and oil lamps, smoked sausages, wood fires and earthenware pots,
    well water and the ever important church bell.
    Its true…..what surely makes the the difference is the cultural aspect of us Goans.

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Jude thank you for sharing the additional info of two other dedicated ships the SABARMATI and SARASWAT, prior to all what happened as I described in my post.

  • JOSEPH LOUIS DSOUZA

    What an absolute pleasure to read about this so many decades later. I am 46 now. As a little boy of 7, I travelled from Mumbai to Goa on the Konkan Sevak. My mother hailed from Vasai (then Bassein), my dad from Vagator, but I was born and brought up in Pune. We spent our summer holidays in Vasai most years. The captain of the Konkan Sevak was Richard Gonsalves, he is still alive. He was a family friend. He offered us passage on the ship, knowing my dad had meagre earnings, God bless him. I remember we spent the night in his cabin, but can bear witness to everything you have written about the decks and the passengers sleeping on sheets and the rest. I can recollect the two steamers passing at night, in fact they slowed down as they passed mid-sea as if to reassure the other that it was really them passing in the dead of night and signalled with torches, probably morse code. We ate with the captain and were introduced to everyone as his “gav wallas”. I remember the light houses on the way, the captain explained everything to us and related a few stories to my parents. I now live in the shadow of the Chapora fort, but at the time I was too young to fathom its relevance. Nostalgic. Thank you!!!

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Thank you Joseph for sharing your side of the experience of travelling by the Konkan Sevak. steamer.
      These are memories we carry in the deep recesses of our minds forever.
      And every time someone reminds us of them they come out brutally, spewing out overwhelming emotions from within.

  • Ann BeCoy

    What a beautiful description of a the Bombay to Goa boat ride I took once. It brought back such sweet memories and I am especially grateful because some of those memories were murky and unclear. You cleared the water and painted a perfect picture of one of the highlights of my trip to India in 1972. You may want to read Memoirs of a Hippie Girl in India which recounts other India and Nepal travel adventures.
    Thanks for sharing this post. Do you have more?

    • Willie Wolfgang Post author

      Yeah, Yeah – In the 1960~80’s we used to see a lot of hippies with their unique style in Goa, Pune (Rajneesh Ashram) and on the Steamer service.
      Offcourse, they were hippies up-north of India too.
      But, you Ann have taken us back again to the yesteryears of 1970’s.

  • Salus

    Initially there were Scindia’s Sabarmati and Saraswati which plied mostly from Mormugao. Later Dempos introduced two vessels from Panjim and they were ROHIDAS and CHAMPAVATI.
    Chowgules came in last with three vessels: ROHINI, SARITA & KONKAN SEVAK. Rohini was involved in some smuggling activity and sank in a river estuary while evading authorities. Sarita was later renamed Konkan Shakti.

    • Sachin Naik

      Rohini ran aground at either Deogad or Ratnagiri and I believe had to be scrapped. 1st time I am hearing of this smuggling activity. There was no such talk, when it happened.

  • Vishal Rawlley

    This is so beautifully written that I felt I went on that trip without ever having been on it. Thank you for sharing memories weaved in such a tapestry of fine detail (fluffy the dog, running out of Limca, nappy changing…). Delightful!!!

  • Shailesh

    I remember spending time with the Captain of Konkan Shakti on the wheelhouse deck, blowing the toot when it crossed the Kinkan Sevak in the wee hours of the night……what an experience for a little boy of around 6/7 years then…….I have very fond and wonderful memories of the trip……

  • Helen

    What nostalgia!!! Enjoyed reading every bit. The family did this trip regularly…..especially remember how the food from canteen was distributed with the words “John pass” meaning Jovon pass. Loved the singing and dancing and sometimes romancing on those ships. I have travelled on most of them…Konkan Sevak, Shakti, Champavati to name a few. Unforgettable times. Thanks fir sharing.

  • Mary

    I too have beautiful memories of travelling with my family by the SABARMATI and SARASWATI which was the best part of my growing up. I remember running up and down the deck with my sisters and even playing tombola to while the time. Oh what an unforgettable part of my life Enjoyed Reading the articles too.

  • Robert Saldanha

    OOOhhhh WOW !!!!! I too loved those voyages with my Dear departed Dad and Mom in the 70’s and then later on with friends smoking the blues and having a ball on every trip. Dad was a senior beauacrat in the Maharashtra Government and so we always got Cabin Class and the best of treatment but that Cabin was only for me to sleep. Rest of the time I was down with friends smoking, rolling n drinking Urak with masala snacks…. i hardly slept and sat on those deck / arm chairs watching the coastline early morning and loved the sunrise……… Those were the days my friend, we thought they would never end…….. Also every evening from our house in Saligao the walk to Calangute Beach and then have those guitar sing along songs (Down by the river side, Que sera sera, Bring back my Bonnie to me, O when the Saints, etc) till late at night outside Souza-Lobo’s and that Royal Hotel with their dancing on the terrace…… The long walk back was horrid as my Cousins wud scare us Bombay boys about ghosts and stuff…. Superb Memories….. So many more but cant write it here as many reading it would get heart attacks…. Hahahhahaaaaa
    Thank you for the superb aricle….. Gonna share it on my Facebook page. (Y)

  • Walter Tucker

    I too remember taking that trip with my dad from Vakola, Santa Cruz to Goa Santa Cruz , very vividly.
    I may remember my first kiss, but I can’t forget and will always cherish the Bombay to Goa steamer trips.
    Thanks you so much for sharing your memories and the priceless pictures.

  • Carlyle Carvalho

    A wonderful description bringing back a flood of memories of our trips to Goa during the October holidays. In the 1970s, we had travelled on the Sarita and Konkan Sevak with dolphins accompanying the ships. I loved to see the swarm of jellyfish when we anchored at Ratnagiri. Those were the days…

  • Dr Edgar Menezes

    How can I ever forget this lovely voyage during my school days by steam ship from Goa to Mumbai and vice versa? This as my family’s preferred mode of travel to Mumbai those good old days. The excitement of embarking on the ship ,the departure at 10 am sharp with friends and relatives waiting to see us off,the sing song sessions on board the decks,the lovely view of the coastline and other sea vessels, the tasty food served in the canteen etc etc. Some of our friends would go cabin class and we would spend time in their cabins. The camaraderie and humour on board among the passengers was something that had to be seen to be believed.. Except for occasional bouts of sea sickness and vomitting,a lovely joyful journey which one can recall vividly with nostalgia. Even though it was a 24 hours journey,time would just fly and before we knew it e would be excitedly preparing for the arrival.